BEING BISEXUAL seems to be the thing. I just wish they wouldn't push it on everybody else." So says a Washington-area 18-year-old who just finished high school. She's referring not to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force or ACT UP. She's talking about her own high school classmates.
According to the Washington Post, bisexuality and homosexuality have become the "in" thing among the high school and junior high school set. They sport pink ribbons, kiss members of the same sex in the hallways ("to see what people will say") and tell reporters that "Everyone is bisexual, if you ask me."
For many non-bigoted, non-homophobic heterosexuals, this is the heart of the debate over homosexuality. No one wants homosexuals to be hounded or harassed in any way. But is there a risk that by acquiescing to demands for acceptance and equality, we will miss the mark and wind up encouraging homosexuality as a fashion?
The account by the Washington Post of the burgeoning number of teen-agers who are now calling themselves "gay" or "bi" suggests the overwhelming power of fashion in human affairs --particularly when the humans are between the ages of 13 and 20. Confused and overwhelmed by sex in any case, and now bombarded by talk of homosexuality in the press, in school sex-education classes and in entertainment, lots of kids are calling themselves "gay" to be trendy or rebellious.
In some cases, the very absence of a taboo is sufficient to sow confusion. Adrian Banard, an 18-year-old from suburban Virginia, told the Post, "Someone asked me what my sexual orientation was, and I found myself rather unable to tell them. I had just gone along assuming I'm heterosexual. Then I sat down to think about it and realized I could go either way."
Key to the argument of homosexual activists is the idea that homosexuality is an innate, immutable characteristic. You are born straight, or you are born gay. No one in his right mind, they assert, would "choose" to be homosexual in a society as homophobic as ours.
Whether our society in fact fits that description is now debatable, as these high school kids demonstrate. But neither is it clear that homosexuals are born, not made. There is a great deal of evidence that many people who have no difficulty describing themselves as heterosexual can be tempted into homosexuality. Look at the behavior of men in prison. They engage in homosexual conduct because women are unavailable. gay activists insist that their fundamental natures have changed?
Besides, to say that no one would willingly choose to be homosexual, in light of the difficulties attending that life, is to interpret the word "choose" much too narrowly. Most people make decisions based upon partly or even largely unconscious motivations, fears and needs. A peeping Tom doesn't rationally weigh all the sexual options available and "choose" voyeurism the way one chooses chicken salad at a cafeteria. He feels driven to it by his history and his upbringing.
The young man who told the Post that, having thought it over, he could "go either way" probably speaks for thousands, if not millions. Sexuality is not fixed and permanent, like eye color. It is influenced by emotion, age, experience and, yes, culture. When I was a student at Columbia University in the mid- and late 1970s, the homosexual and lesbian group was a tiny fringe. By 1990, according to the report of a recent graduate, a substantial number of women students were experimenting with lesbianism as "a political act." In the space of a decade, a taboo had fallen, a new fad was born and people acted accordingly.
Fashion is very powerful. For centuries in China, mothers bound the feet of their infant daughters, grossly deforming them and consigning the girls to a lifetime of pain and disability. For fashion.
Why not accept the gay trend with equanimity? Because even if one is non-religious, it is clear that in the age of AIDS, widespread homosexuality is an invitation to disaster. Moreover, the family -- comfort of children and core of civilization -- depends upon adults marrying members of the opposite sex.
Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.